MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater was the lone member of the team sporting a "2012 AFC East Champions" hat in the team's locker room after the Patriots (9-3) clinched the division with a 23-16 win over the Miami Dolphins Sunday. Slater's been here before -- the Patriots have won the division in each of his four seasons in New England -- but he was cautiously excited.
"We'll savor it for the next 24 hours maybe, and then we'll enjoy it after the season," said Slater. "We have a lot of football left to be played. We have a lot of goals hopefully to be accomplished. It's a big step but it's not the last step."
Cautious excitement was the general mood around the visitors' locker room. It's important to clinch a playoff spot, but the Patriots have Super Bowl aspirations. Wes Welker and Jerod Mayo both stressed that the Patriots have played only 12 games. Tom Brady stressed the importance of the December schedule. Bill Belichick said the team has accomplished one of its goals for the year.
"Move on in stride," said Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. "Coming here, we knew what was at stake. We clinched the division today. We came here and took care of that. But, now we have Houston coming to town, a very, very, very good team."
The Patriots will host the Texans in a Monday night game on Dec. 10.